CAIRO (AP) – Iran-backed rebels on Monday rejected a U.S. intention to label them a terrorist organization in the last days of the Trump administration, while a leading aid agency warned that such a designation would deal another “devastating blow” to the impoverished and war-torn nation.
The planned appointment, announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Sunday, will take effect a day before the opening of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20th. It was unclear whether Biden would overturn the decision.
Yemen is mired in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, with millions of people in large parts of the country on the brink of starvation as a result of six years of civil war.
Pompeo said he went on to identify the rebels known as the Houthis, along with separate terrorist designations for the three top rebel leaders. At the same time, he promised that the United States would help absorb the impact on aid groups and allow humanitarian aid to continue to flow in Yemen.
Hours later, several high-ranking rebel figures threw the message at Pompeo.
“We are not afraid,”
Others said the appointment was an attempt to divert attention from the political crisis in the United States following the deadly Capitol riots and the impeachment efforts of President Donald Trump. “We are honored to be terrorists and world gangsters,” Hutt media spokesman Abdel-Rahman al-Anoumi wrote on Twitter.
In Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Hatibzadeh condemned the designation as a “doomed” action at the end of the Trump administration. He said the United States would eventually have to enter into negotiations with Yemen’s legitimate representatives – citing the Hutus – to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government has described the Hutus as a “terrorist militia” and in a foreign ministry statement called for “continued escalation and increased political and legal pressure on the Hutus to pave the way for a peaceful solution to the conflict.” ”
Yemen, at the top of the Arabian Peninsula, is the site of the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. The war, which killed more than 112,000 people, left most of the country’s nearly 30 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The war
The conflict began in 2014, when the Husseins conquered the north and the capital, Sanaa. The following year, the Saudi-led coalition intervened to wage war against the Husseins to try to restore the government of internationally recognized President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi.
In early January, the Hadi government accused the rebels of firing ballistic missiles at a plane carrying cabinet members after landing in the southern port city of Aden, an attack that killed more than 25 people. The Hutus refused to stand behind the strike.
Following the attack, Yemeni Prime Minister Maen Abdulmalik Saeed told the Associated Press that the rebels must “realize that if these criminal and terrorist operations continue, there will be no path to peace.”
At the time, Abdulmalik said the terrorist definition would be a “major step” and would “help bring peace to Yemen”.
Past rounds of peace talks and ceasefire agreements have stalled, and aid agencies, which operate mainly in Houthi-controlled areas, fear that any targeting of the rebel group will affect the entire population.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the country’s main humanitarian agencies, said on Monday that Pompeo’s planned sanctions would “limit the ability of aid agencies to respond” to the humanitarian needs of millions of Yemenis.
“Yemen’s shaky economy will be dealt another devastating blow,” said Mohamed Abdi, the group’s director for Yemen. “It will become even more difficult to import food and medicine into Yemen, a country that is dependent on 80% of imports.”
Auxiliary organizations have long warned that sanctions could prove disastrous in efforts to help starving Yemeni civilians caught in the conflict between the Hutus and the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led war with the rebels.
In a statement, Pompeo said the United States recognizes that the designation could affect the humanitarian situation and will take action to counter it.
“We plan to introduce measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activities and imports in Yemen,” he said. These measures will include the issuance of special licenses by the US Treasury Department to allow US aid to continue flowing to Yemen and humanitarian organizations to continue working there, he said.
Separately, the United States stopped millions of dollars from its aid donations to Hutu-controlled areas following reports of aid theft and robbery. UN agencies have long complained of rebels stealing and diverting food aid.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi of Tehran, Iran, contributed to the report.